Why illegal drug use and overages have become increasingly popular in the Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing world…
You could probably start this article with the line that should end it: The Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industry needs a National Governing Sanctioned Body to organize them. We already know the basic rules of horse racing - they’re clear and concise, and are followed regularly on any given race day. However, many owners and trainers still push the envelope with their barns, relying less and less on pedigree, old fashioned hard work, patience, and devout training methods, and instead, try to find a “quick fix” for a “quick win”. There’s an old adage in many professional sport rule books that reads, “Just because it doesn’t say you can’t, doesn’t mean you can”. This sentence seemingly gets abused on a daily basis throughout Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries, mainly in the area of allowable substances. And speaking of allowable substances: How many times has an owner thrown up his hands saying that he was unaware that his trainer was using a banned substance or an overage of a legal substance on his horse? Or a trainer saying that he was out of state when his assistant trainer was in charge of the horse? Owners and trainers definitely need to be held accountable for inappropriate actions, and should be required to take standard courses themselves to be deemed suitable and knowledgeable. We’ve all heard the saying, “First time caught it’s the fault of the trainer and owner, second time caught, it’s the fault of the industry.”
Every year thousands of potential thoroughbred owners travel to OBS (Ocala Breeder’s Sale), The Fasig-Tipton auctions, and the Keeneland auctions in Lexington, Kentucky, to peruse potential stock for their barns. Many prominent owners and trainers look at yearlings for their genetic potential to compete on a variety of surfaces due to the growing popularity of synthetic racetracks, the increase in turf purses, and the addition of million dollar “Super Derbys”. Quite simply, some are looking for the next “Big Thing”. The snag: Horses are not “things”, and should not be considered a “throw-away” society. They are living and breathing creatures, who think, who know, and who feel.
The standardbred and thoroughbred competition is becoming greater and greater each year, and trainers are being pressured to produce results or have their barns emptied. Nowadays it takes nothing more than a hand shake to have a horse shipped coast to coast for a race within a day, sometimes within hours, without any regard to the emotional well-being of that horse. The race is on, literally, and this one’s not on the track. The Thoroughbred industry is spending millions of dollars developing tests to detect steroids and other designer drugs believed to be used in horses. This, along with The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, who noted that approximately $30 million a year is spent on post-race equine drug testing, with that figure being split among 38 jurisdictions and 18 laboratories.
Is that $30 million (plus) a year to ensure that people are not cheating?
Clearly, both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing industry have the need for a national governing sanctioned body to organize it as mentioned at the beginning of this article. Ficticiously speaking, The National Association of Horse Racing, (NAHR) would mandate a level playing field for all racetracks, with a manageable schedule that includes a stricter approach to their security and to training centers in the area of drug use. In addition, it would serve to provide proper before, during and aftercare of all racehorses, and guarantee that the industry’s employees are valued appropriately - far more than they are at present, but that’s another article.
The bottom line with substance abuse in both the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industry should be a simple one: No second chance for illegal drug use offenders. Sound too harsh? Look at a racehorse that’s been physically and emotionally obliterated with illegal drugs. By the way, you’ll probably have to go to your closest feedlot to find him—and yes, that too, is another article.